Rhodes’ legacy lives on

Allyson Eighmey

Fashion director remembered

Credit: DKS Editors

Elizabeth Rhodes was a seasoned storyteller.

“From the way she told stories, it was clear that she saw the world in unique and insightful ways,” said senior associate provost Timothy Chandler, remembering his friend and former director of The Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising.

Rhodes, 62, passed away July 23 after a 15-year-long battle with multiple forms of cancer.

At the memorial service held for Rhodes on Monday night, Chandler shared his best memories of Rhodes with a room full of friends, family and donors.

He described a trip they took to Italy in 2006 to show fashion school supporters and donors Kent State’s studio in Florence. On that trip, a dean and six other visitors were separated from the rest of the group and ended up on the wrong train with no ticket back to Florence. For many, Chandler said, this situation could’ve turned into a nightmare, but for Rhodes, it was just another exciting story to tell.

“She interpreted events that we had all experienced in ways that I, for one, had never thought of,” he said. “She found love and warmth and compassion and great humor in everyday things.”

Rhodes was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, the same year she became director. She kept her position even through chemotherapy treatments and hospital stays. Rhodes went into remission, but was diagnosed years later with leukemia and another form of breast cancer. She retired in June.

Less than a month ago, Rhodes turned over her position to J.R. Campbell, a previous administrator at the Centre for Advanced Textiles at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. Rhodes was on contract until next year to help Campbell make the transition into his position as the school’s new director.

“With the strength of vision and boundless drive, she accomplished incredible things for the School of Fashion,” Campbell wrote in his personal blog entry Saturday evening. “I hope to be able to continue and to expand that vision in a manner befitting of her memory.”

The “boundless drive” Campbell wrote about is evident in the changes Rhodes made for the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising.

Rhodes helped increase enrollment in the school from 300 to 1,000 students, Chandler said.

According to information in a brochure describing the Elizabeth A. Rhodes Legacy Campaign, she increased scholarships from generous donors and provided internships with industry partners. Yearly support increased from $53,000 to more than $500,000. Currently, scholarship endowments exceed $2.5 million.

Rhodes changed the way fashion students worked on campus by adding digital textile printers and computerized looms to Rockwell Hall. She also helped create the June F. Mohler Fashion Library.

Rhodes increased study abroad and travel opportunities for fashion students. With her help, the school reached out to the rest of the world by opening a studio in Italy and forming collaborations with the Paris-American Academy and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Another of Rhodes’ achievements was a satellite studio in New York City.

Along with supporting the School of Fashion, Rhodes assisted the American Cancer Society’s research efforts. Rhodes was named 2009 Woman of Valor at the American Cancer Society North Ohio Region Runway of Hope benefit earlier this year.

“We know that living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident,” Chandler said. “It’s not a matter of circumstance; it’s a matter of choice. Elizabeth chose her life and we were all among the beneficiaries of that choice.”

Donations can be made to Rhodes’ legacy campaign, which funds the New York City studio and other Fashion School projects.

While Rhodes was alive, the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation of Hudson created a legacy fund in her honor and pledged $1 million to be paid spanning the next 10 years. With all other small donations included, more than $70,000 has been donated to the legacy fund through gifts as small as $25.

To make a contribution to the Elizabeth A. Rhodes Legacy Campaign, contact Shawn Gordon at 330-672-8484 or through e-mail at [email protected].

Contact School of Fashion Design and Merchandising reporter Allyson Eighmey at [email protected].